by Kris Parfitt
– The Capitol Hill Times –
The battles of the Civil War were fought a far cry from Seattle, which is why it seems remarkable that Seattle would have its own Civil War cemetery. Just north of Lake View Cemetery adjacent to Volunteer Park lay 526 gravesites of Confederate and Union Civil War veterans. Known as the Grand Army of the Republic Cemetery, it is located at 1200 E. Howe Street.
After the end of the Civil War, many soldiers wanted a clean break, more independence and the thrill of exploring the unknown. A large population of Civil War veterans moved west solo, as groups, or with family. They sought work and adventure during the Californian and Alaskan gold rushes, were often employed as loggers and fishermen and eagerly helped settle the Pacific North West.
As their ranks began to die off, various cemeteries were platted throughout the region to honor their efforts in the war.
Established in 1895 by five Seattle-based Grand Army of the Republic groups or posts, the cemetery was placed on land donated by Seattle’s first two Jewish residents, Huldah and David Kaufman, who arrived in Seattle in 1869.
Grand Army of the Republic posts maintained the cemetery until 1922, but when short on funds and time, the responsibility for the plot of land was transferred to the city of the Seattle. While adjacent to Lake View Cemetery, between the years of 1922 to 1960, the GAR cemetery experienced a decline in maintenance due to confusion over its land title.
Debate rose in the 1960s about where to move the graves with the intended responsibility transferred to the Veterans Administration. However, once again funds and allocated land were scarce, and the land surrounding the cemetery was placed under the Seattle Department of Parks and Recreation. After the parks department proposed the land be made into an off-leash dog park those committed to the cemetery’s existence formed the Friends of the GAR Cemetery Park in 1997. While voluntarily run, the FGAR schedule monthly work parties, replace older headstones and raise and lower the flag daily.
In 1989 the cemetery was mapped listing the graves by row and number. But 18 soldiers went unaccounted for and their headstones, if still standing, are marked “Unknown.”
One interesting soldier buried in the Seattle GAR cemetery is not a mistakenly mis-marked grave of a wife, sister, or daughter. Sarah Emma Edmonds was a Canadian who enlisted in the 2nd Michigan Infantry after reading the story of a cross-dressing woman who experienced adventure and excitement dressed as a pirate.
Physical examinations were not required in those days of war so Edmonds easily disguised herself as a man named Franklin Flint Thompson and served as a male field nurse. Edmonds soon became a spy and dressed in various disguises ranging from an Irish peddler woman selling apples and soap to Confederate soldiers, a black laundress who returned secret notes from the Confederate camps to her Union superiors, and as a black slave to gain access across enemy lines.
Upon contracting malaria, Edmonds deserted her post as spy Franklin Thompson. After recuperating she worked as a female nurse in the District of Columbia. Long after her rouse as a male soldier was discovered, her comrades-in-arms still spoke highly of her and oft remarked that she was a “frank and fearless” fighter.
Veterans Day, Armistice Day and Remembrance Day all coincide globally to mark the anniversary of the signing of the Armistice that ended World War 1. While it is sometimes confused with Memorial Day (where we honor those who died fighting in our county’s wars), Veterans Day celebrates the service of all US military veterans.